Sodoma In Rome

IT is certain that Sodoma left Monte Oliveto more fully in possession of his faculties as an artist than when he went there. He had left the mediæval manner behind him, and might now take rank among the moderns. He is entirely modern in the fresco in the Vatican, which is the next work which we can trace.

In 1507 there arrived in Siena, Agostino Chigi, treasurer to Julius II., rich beyond the dreams of avarice, extravagant beyond the limits of good taste. Of him it is related that, after each banquet given to the Pope at his villa in Trastevere, the whole dinner-service, whether of silver or not, was cast with the refuse into the Tiber. He possessed the duty on salt, and the alum-pits of the Papal States, and drew from them some 70,000 ducats annually.

Rome was just then the seat of very considerable artistic activity. Perugino had been set by Sixtus IV., to decorate, in company with Botticelli, Ghirlandajo, and Signorelli, the walls of the Sistine Chapel, and Pinturicchio, commanded by Alexander VI. to paint the Borgia chambers. Julius II. who now ascended the Pontifical chair was furthermore connected with the ducal house of Urbino, a centre of courtly culture, where connoisseurship in art ranked as a necessary qualification. His was the ambition, not only to extend the temporal power, but to render the Eternal City as beautiful through works of art as Augustus had done through the acquisition of valuable marble. Michelangelo was now bidden leave his colossal tomb and commence the ceiling of the Sistine, and the leading artists of the day were employed on the Vatican chambers.

Sodoma, taken to Rome by Chigi, and perhaps further recommended by Bramantino, whom he had known in Milan,* was now commanded to paint the walls and ceiling of the Camera della Segnatura. The octagon in the middle of the ceiling, wherein bounding cherubs are shown in every possible attitude giving full play to all his power in foreshortening, is, in every sense, a work of the later Renaissance, intrinsically contemporary with the medallions put there later on by Raphael. He had, as we have seen, been commissioned to decorate the whole chamber, and his are the Arabesques which form a framework to the four famous symbolic figures. His, too, are the eight little scenes in grisaille which fill up the spaces between the medallions, scenes which have not perhaps very great individual merit, but which take their place adequately in the general decorative scheme, and once formed a background to the four figures painted there by Sodoma himself. Vasari says that it was the artist’s own inattention and idleness which caused the Pope to have them obliterated, and Raphael set to paint his allegories in their stead. It is equally probable that the change came about from a desire for artistic harmony, and that the principal pictorial elements in the ceiling should be done by the same hand which had decorated the walls. Raphael, however, with the eye of a genuine artist, saw that Sodoma’s work was good, and he contrived to leave intact the central fresco and the decorative panels in grisaille. Raphael further painted Sodoma’s portrait next his own in the “School of Athens.” The man in white, with white head-gear, is now admitted to be not Perugino, as formerly supposed, who was a very much older man at the time, but the young author of the ceiling ornament.

Curiously enough, this central space, with its fore-shortened and fleshy cherubs sustaining the Della Rovere coat-of-arms, has been attributed, by a German school of critics, to Melozzi da Forli, an opinion which existing documents disprove, and which the internal evidence of technique should be sufficient to disperse. The grounds for this curious theory seem to consist chiefly in the fact that Sixtus IV., who called Melozzo da Forli to Rome, was a Della Rovere, and that the coat-of-arms refers to him, and not to Julius.

Another work which is attributed to Sodoma, and also assigned by Morelli to this epoch, that of his first Roman visit, is the little panel in the Brera, No. 14515. A very sweet-faced and distinctly Lombard Madonna is seated upon a bank where columbine and wild parsley spring. Behind her a field stretches away to the river, which flows from a limpid lake. The lake is bounded by transparent, bluish mountains, rendered more blue and more transparent by the flaming sunset light. The artist was evidently impressed by the gorgeous natural colouring, and has concentrated himself upon a study in tone, gemlike and brilliant, further enhanced by the quality of the wood on which it was painted.

The shadows are all clear and transparent, and the modelling of the Virgin’s face very delicately done. This picture was in a private collection somewhere in Germany, and was put up for sale in 1890 at a public auction at Cologne. Signor Morelli adjudged it to be by Sodoma and persuaded Herr Habich of Cassel to purchase it. It was afterwards bought by the directors of the Brera Gallery, and now hangs in the same room as Raphael’s ” Sposalizio.” It has all the touches characteristic of Sodoma in his extremely Lombard period, an exaggeration almost of the manner of Leonardo and Luini. Despite the clearness of its shadows, which Morelli takes to be a sign of Sodoma’s early work, we should be more inclined to assign it to a later period, perhaps that of the Borghese ” Leda,” and the smaller ” Madonna ” of Turin.

What became of Sodoma after his dismissal from Rome is uncertain. He probably returned to Siena with Agostino Chigi, and in the October of 1510, he married the daughter of the prosperous Luca Galli, landlord of the ” Crown and Goose.” Milanesi found among the archives an entry concerning her dowry, which was not inconsiderable, reaching, as it did, the sum of 450 florins.

In 1511 was born his only son Apelles, to whom the painter Genga stood godfather. Apelles died in infancy, and the following year saw the birth of a daughter, Faustina, who afterwards married her father’s pupil Bartolommeo Neroni, commonly known as Riccio.

Vasari makes some allusions to domestic unhappiness and says that his wife finally left him and supported herself; but we can find no other authority to this statement. In 1531 and 1541 she was still living with her husband, and if it be true, as Vasari says, that when old ” he had nothing to live upon, and no one to take care of him,” it was probably because his wife was dead.

He was evidently doing well, for in June 1511 he threw into prison Vincenzo Tamagni, another painter, who owed him a sum of twenty-five golden ducats,* and in 1513 he ran three horses in the Palio, the annual race which still takes place in the public square of Siena during the month of August.

One of these horses he apparently bought from Agostino dei Bardi, for Milanesi found among the archives a notice to the effect that, ” on the 9th of November 1513 Johannis Antonius Jacobe dei Verzé di Savoia, having had a horse from Messer Agostino dei Bardi, valued at thirty golden ducats, undertook to paint, within the space of eight months, either the façade of his house, or a panel for an altar-piece, as he should choose.” t Another entry gives the names and description of these same horses run by the fashionable painter. Bardi chose the decoration of his house-front, a sign significant of the growing Renaissance spirit, but even during Vasari’s lifetime the fresco was peeling, and has now entirely disappeared. There is a large altar-piece, done originally for a church at Colle in Val D’Elsa, which, in spite of the audacious restoration which has almost obscured the distinctive character of Sodoma’s work, is assigned by Dr. Frizzoni to this epoch. It represents the Virgin and Child upon a high marble throne, two flying angels hold back the curtains of the canopy, and below are a group of four saints, Lucy, Catharine of Alexandria, Jerome, and John.

It was bought by the Turin Gallery for 1200 scudi from Cav. Rosselli del Turco of Florence.

Frizzoni says : ” This is a work meriting particular attention for its uncommon merits, so much so that one may believe it to have been executed in a moment of fortunate inspiration and in the full power of his faculties.”

The fresco of St. Ives, on the wall of the prison chapel at San Gemignano was executed during 1507, most probably before his visit to Rome. He received the ,commission from Giovanni Battista Macchiavelli, who was then Podestà, but apparently it was done in a hurry, as a kind of artistic parenthesis. It still exists, though considerably damaged, and we can distinguish within the larger of its divisions—for Sodoma again carried out the portico idea so much in vogue at Siena—St. Ives standing among a crowd of clients to whom he administers justice. Two fat putti now hardly traceable, stand in the foreground, holding the Macchiavelli escutcheon. In 1513 he was paid 142 lire by the commune of San Gemignano for another fresco, that of the Madonna enthroned between San Gemignano and St. Nicholas of Bari. This fresco was on the wall of a loggia facing the church of the Collegiata, but with the action of frost and rain the colour has almost left it and very little but the out-line remains. The two putti, flying above the Virgin’s head, are still in fair preservation.*

Between 1513 and 1515, when we find him again in Siena, Sodoma is believed to have been at Rome, this time in the actual service of Agostino Chigi, who was about to marry Leonora, the daughter of Girolamo Piccolomini. He had erected for his private dwelling the palace on the right bank of the Tiber, now called the Farnesina. Whether this fine piece of architecture be the work of Baldassare Peruzzi or of Raphael is somewhat uncertain. At any rate Chigi employed the greatest artists of the day upon its interior decoration ; Raphael designed the myth of Psyche for the ground floor hall, Peruzzi painted the ceiling of a smaller room, Sebastian del Piombo and Michelangelo left frescoes upon various walls.

The palace was certainly built and partially decorated by 1510, and most authorities are agreed that it was between the years 1513 and 1515, when he was back in Siena, that Sodoma paid his second visit to the capital, and that the Farnesina frescoes are not, as Vasari asserted, contemporaneous with his ceiling in the Vatican.* In Chigi’s house he enjoyed the most brilliant society, that of the leading artists and some of the most notable men of letters of the day. Leonardo was in Rome at the time, and with Pietro Aretino Sodoma contracted a friendship which lasted into old age. There is, among Aretino’s published letters, one addressed to Sodoma, t in which he speaks of the “cordial affection of love with which we were wont to embrace when Rome and the house of Agostino Chigi so delighted us that we should have been furious with anyone who had ventured to tell us that we could exist an hour without one another.”

To Sodoma was allotted the task of painting, in the upper storey, certain scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, his conquest of Darius and his marriage with Roxana.

The Roxana scene is about twice as long as it is high, filled with architectural details, of which the bride’s couch, with its heavily-carved columns and cornices, is the most conspicuous portion.

An open loggia to the right, with polished marble columns, gives ample opportunity for displaying his knowledge of perspective, and beyond these is a landscape of a hill-town, a winding river, and an old bridge.

To the left is Roxana’s couch, on which she is seated, while three winged putti pull off her sandals and assist her with her toilet. Behind her two female attendants and a negro bring ewers of water. Alexander stands before the couch, offering his royal crown to his bride, and two tall figures, probably Hephæstion and Hymen, for one of them bears a torch, stand under the colonnade. On the ground beside them, in the roof of the loggia and above Roxana’s couch, fly putti in every attitude of jubilant exaltation.

There are a good many drawings for this fresco scattered about Europe, and nearly all of them have been attributed to Raphael, probably because he was known to have treated the subject in much the same manner. Both he and Sodoma based their composition about a classical description of an antique painting by Aetion.

There is a pen and ink drawing in the Uffizi (No. 1479), in which Roxana is seated nude upon her couch, while one of the putti takes off her sandals and another unpins her veil. This has a signature, now believed to be a forgery, de Rafel da Urbin. Another version of the same group is in the Albertina at Vienna, once believed to be Raphael’s, butt now officially recognised as being by Sodoma, and there is a pen and ink study in the Esterhazy collection at Buda Pesth, for the figure of Roxana standing. This has also been finally identified as Sodoma’s.

The Christ Church Library, Oxford, has a rough sketch for Roxana’s couch, where three wingless putti trail festoons of flowers about the baldacchino. Sir J. C. Robinson, in his Critical Account of the Drawings of Michelangelo and Rafaello in the University Galleries,* refuses to see in this study any resemblance to the style of Raphael, and classes it among the unknown drawings of the early part of the sixteenth century, and most probably as Baccio Bandinelli’s. Passavant puts it down to “the school of Raphael.” Morelli and Frizzoni consider it a genuine Sodoma.

On the opposite wall we have Alexander receiving the vanquished family of Darius. This fresco is full of figures, and has his usual defect of nearly all the heads being on the same level. Under a tent, attached to the branches of neighbouring trees, the conqueror stands, while before him, with outstretched arms, the mother of the fallen Persian bows before him, and behind her follow the wife and children, and a number of women servants. Behind Alexander a group of armed men wait at a little distance. A portion of the bridge spanning a river, and a feathery tree, carry the eye into the background.

In both of these frescoes we find the Lombard manner more and more, and the fact that Leonardo was himself in Rome at this time may serve to explain it. Side by side with this tendency, however, we find a more or less direct imitation of Raphael. His drawings for the Roxana fresco have a good deal of the “round” manner of that master, and it is not without a good show of reason, that they have in most cases been attributed to him. Naturally, the broader style of painting introduced by the great innovator of the fifteenth century, was bound to affect the whole art-world, but in Sodoma’s case direct imitation of him is to be traced but in a few things, and Raphael’s influence does not appear to have been a permanent one. Curiously enough, though in Rome at the very moment when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, and probably moving in the same social circle, Sodoma was careful not to allow himself to be in any way drawn into the circle of his influence, and though we occasionally find reminiscences of Raphael in his later work—the frescoes in San Bernardino and the ” Birth of the Virgin ” in the Carmine—there is nothing among his works to remind us that he ever saw a painting of Buonarotti.

The third fresco in the Farnesina, that of Vulcan bending over the fire to forge his arrows, was for a long time unauthenticated, but Frizzoni believes it to be also by Sodoma, an opinion not shared by other critics. Another fresco, on the fourth wall of this room, representing the young Alexander breaking in Bucephalus, much defaced by restoration, is claimed by Kugler as Sodoma’s, and Frizzoni claims for him the whole cycle. During this, his second Roman visit, he must have painted the panel in the Spada Gallery representing ” St. Christopher carrying the infant Christ.” There is a rough sketch for this among the drawings in the Uffizi, in red chalk, No. 1986, and another, more finished, of the Morelli collection at Bergamo.

Prince Mario Chigi has a small, highly – coloured panel filled with struggling figures. It had been greatly retouched, and a few years ago the upper coats of paint were carefully removed, revealing the original work, which Morelli unhesitatingly ascribed to Sodoma. It is obviously an episode from Roman history, and has been called the ” Rape of the Sabines,” but Frizzoni thinks it more probably the picture referred to in the inventory quoted by Della Valle, in which an unknown citizen of Siena catalogues, among the pictures left him by his father —

“A picture by Sodoma, representing Numitor, who condemns the mother of Romulus and Remus to death with her children—scudi 100.”

There is a vulgar pen and ink sketch in the Uffizi, unsigned, which is attributed to Sodoma, and is believed to be a study for this panel.

About this time Signor Morelli believes him to have painted the original of the ” Leda,” No. 434, in the Borghese Gallery. This panel was for a long time thought to be by Leonardo until Morelli, finding many drawings for it in the different European galleries, which he unhesitatingly ascribed to Sodoma, concluded that this was the picture for which these studies had been made. He held this opinion for about fifteen years, until the picture was moved into a better light, and then it was suggested to him by Dr. Richter, who had care-fully examined it, that it was not an original, but most probably a very good old copy of one by Sodoma, now lost. Of these drawings in pen and ink, one, he says, is at Weimar under the name of Leonardo. It is a kneeling figure of Leda bending to the left towards the crouching swan, while the twins, Castor and Pollux, lie beneath some rushes to her right.

In another at Chatsworth (also given to Leonardo) Leda’s head is upright, and the swan raising its neck towards her, while the two children have become four. In both of these the shading is done with curved lines across the figure with exceedingly little cross-hatching.

At Windsor there is another pen drawing of the full length figure (Grov. Gall. Pub. 5o), and this is probably the study from which the picture was made. It is so much like Raphael’s work that it is still generally considered as his. Morelli, however, has written : “Looking more closely at the drawing we cannot fail to recognise the spirit and the hand of Sodoma in the form of the feet, the full, fleshy knees, the almond – shaped eyes, and the arrangement of the hair, which is quite unlike Raphael, and the fine strokes of the pen.”

There is also at Windsor a sheet of studies for the head, in four different positions, with elaborately coiled and braided hair. It passes for a Leonardo, but a red chalk drawing in the Ambrosiana, which gives the head and shoulders, is rightly ascribed to Sodoma.

Lomazzo, in his Trattato delta Pittura, quoted Leonardo as having made a Leda with the swan, but we believe that no well-authenticated picture by Leonardo treating this subject is in existence, although there are several ascribed to him in Germany, and a large number of drawings in different parts of Europe. The subject may have been given by him as an academical study in the same way as the much repeated composition of the Virgin upon the knees of St. Anne.

A small ” Madonna and Child ” in the Turin Gallery is believed to belong to these years of Sodoma’s life. It has warm colouring, but is heavy and dark in the shadows. The Madonna holds the Infant Christ, who plays with a bird, and St. Joseph, a clear cut, clean shaven face, peers over her left shoulder at the Child.

There is a replica of this in the Munich Gallery (No. 1073) which Morelli says is superior in freshness and spontaneity. We have not seen it, but can readily believe this observation, as the Turin Madonna has been heavily retouched.